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Braves Recap/Flashback: April 29

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Is Coors Field always crazy? It certainly was in this game.

CO: Atlanta Braves v Colorado Rockies Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

On the final flashback/recap of April, let’s take a trip to 2007, just for maximum wackiness. The 2007 Braves weren’t bad. They weren’t the come-down from the division title streak of 2006, and they weren’t the plunge into a pretty bad team in 2008. They also weren’t the 2014 collapse, or the horrible 2015-2017 teams. They were just kind of mediocre, the most “I guess they were there” of the Braves teams since 2000.

But hey, it’s baseball! The most mediocre team can still have a completely wild and wacky game. And the 2007 Braves didn’t know they were mediocre! Far from it, they actually came into their April 29 game at Coors Field tied for the best record in the majors, so there wasn’t a reason to expect yakety sax. They had already won the first two games of their series at Coors Field, and were going for the sweep against a Rockies team that had had one of the worst starts to 2007 across baseball. What transpired had... so much stuff. I miss baseball.

How it happened: The pitching matchup in this game featured two right-handers. For the visitors, it would be Kyle Davies, coming off a sub-replacement level year but just plugged right back into the 2007 rotation anyway. The home team would be throwing Aaron Cook, a longtime Rockie who was extreme in how few batters he struck out. Cook’s highest career strikeout rate was 11.6 percent — he had a single-digit one in more seasons than he cleared 10 percent. Still, Cook made it work with grounders, not too many walks, and not getting obliterated at Coors Field: he finished his career with a perfectly fine 98 ERA-, 100 FIP-, and 103 xFIP- and was coming off a 3.6 fWAR season where the ERA- and FIP- were in the 80-90 range. Given that this came with microscopic strikeout totals, it was actually really impressive.

But this businessman’s special would not be a day for pitching. (It rarely was for Davies, anyway.) It was Coors, it was 82 degrees in April, the wind was blowing out to left field, and everyone brought their hittin’ shoes.

True to form, though, Cook started the game with two groundouts and then struck out Chipper Jones. The hitting would momentarily have to wait, at least until Davies strode to the mound. Davies walked the leadoff man, Willy Taveras, on four pitches. Backup catcher Brayan Peña gunned down Taveras trying to steal, and despite allowing back-to-back two-out singles to Garrett Atkins and Todd Helton, Davies got out of it with a called strike three on Matt Holliday.

Cook got two outs in the air to start the second, and then it came back to bite him: Scott Thorman for once channeled his namesake and crushed a 3-1 pitch the other way for a line-drive solo homer. Cook went back to the grounder and got Peña that way to end the inning. Davies escaped damage despite three baserunners in the first, but was not nearly so fortunate in the second. Brad Hawpe worked a full count, and then rolled a leadoff single. Chris Iannetta worked a full count, and then walked. Jamey Carroll worked a full count, and then walked. Cook, up with the bases packed and none out, worked a full count but struck out looking. The speedy Taveras was going to be hard to double up anyway, but his grounder rolled through the right side, scoring two. Troy Tulowitzki then followed with a triple down the line and into the left-field corner, and the Rockies suddenly had a 4-1 lead with just one out in the second. Amazingly, Davies stranded Tulowitzki at third with a groundout to Chipper, a walk to Helton, and then an inning-ending foulout.

There was then a brief paucity of scoring. Cook gave up a leadoff opposite-field double to Ryan Langerhans, but ended up stranding him there. Davies issued a one-out walk but nothing else. In the fourth, Thorman again got to Cook: Andruw Jones hit a one-out double into left down the line, and scored on Thorman’s two-out grounder that rolled into right field. Two more grounders would follow, one for a hit, but the next for a groundout, to end the inning. Davies then somehow managed an eight-pitch inning, which was matched by a three-groundout inning from Cook.

That was it for Davies — despite his final-inning recovery, he had thrown 93 pitches in four innings, and had allowed ten total baserunners (five hits, five walks) with as many runs yielded as strikeouts. Despite it being Coors Field, it was an improvement over his prior outing, where he had a 2/6 K/BB ratio and allowed five runs in four innings. The Braves sent in Oscar Villareal for the fifth, a generic longman type who had earned the nickname “The Vulture” for getting a bunch of cheap statbook “W”s in 2006 while providing replacement-level relief work. Villareal gave up a leadoff walk to Helton but then immediately erased him on a Holliday double play. That mattered, because the next batter, Hawpe, connected for Colorado’s first homer of the day, a smash into the wind blowing from right field. The Braves now trailed 5-2, and after Villareal ended his day with a strikeout, it was time for his vulture powers to activate.

Cook came out for the sixth with a three-run lead. Chipper greeted him with a first-pitch single. After Andruw lined out, Francoeur lifted a double into right field, putting two men into scoring position for the man of the day, Thorman. The Rockies made no maneuvers, and Thorman again burned Cook at his own game, this time on a grounder up the middle that scored both runners and made it a one-run game. Another groundball single by Peña moved Thorman to third, where he scored on a lineout to center by Langerhans, tying the game. The Braves pinch-hit for The Vulture with Brian McCann (they must have had a third catcher, Bobby Cox would never pinch-hit his other catcher in the sixth inning, would he?), but he flew out to end the inning. That was it for Cook: five runs in six innings, but true to form, just two strikeouts, zero walks, and a 60 percent grounder rate. Not really a good start, but nothing horrible considering the circumstances, either.

So, the game was tied, it was the bottom of the sixth, and both bullpens were now in the mix. Peter Moylan came on in Villareal’s place and worked a 1-2-3 inning. He actually walked pinch-hitter Steve Finley (batting for Cook) with one out, but got Taveras to hit into something that let him be doubled up. Getting two outs on one Taveras ball in play was a tough task for the Braves’ infield to accomplish, but the Rockies decided to one-up them, anyway.

Zach McClellan was the first man out in relief of Cook, making his sixth career appearance. (This one was not related to the Kyle McClellan whose implosion we covered yesterday, though they were both fairly nondescript reliever humans.) Kelly Johnson greeted him by serving a leadoff single into center. Edgar Renteria followed by rolling a ball between third and short. That brought up Chipper. And then this happened.

This was only the 13th unassisted triple play in history. The most recent one before it was pulled off by Rafael Furcal, for the Braves, four years prior. There have been two since, but none since 2009, which is probably at least partly an artifact of there being a lot less running on the pitch. It was the first unassisted triple play for the Rockies, and the first time the Braves had ever hit into one... unless you count the disputed one hit into by the Boston Red Caps in 1878. This was one of four triple plays total for the 2007 season. The Rockies wouldn’t turn another for seven years.

But hey, the game went on, still tied. Tulowitziki, of course, was immediately due up. Moylan plunked him. He’d later walk Helton on four pitches, but then continue the multi-out-play parade by getting Holliday to ground to Chipper for a 5-4-3 double play.

With the triple play out of their system, the Braves sought to regain the lead, which they hadn’t had since Thorman homered to open the scoring in the second. The Rockies turned to Manny Corpas, who would eventually close for them later in 2007, but was in a middle relief role at this point. The Braves were undeterred by their triple play experience. Andruw dunked one into left-center to start the frame. Francoeur mashed a ball into the right-center gap, but Tulowitzki again proved problematic, taking the throw from Taveras and then gunning Andruw down at the plate. With Francoeur on second, the Rockies elected this moment to avoid pitching to Thorman, sending him to first base. It was the first intentional walk of his career. The move seemed like it was going to work out — on Corpas’ very next pitch after the free pass, Peña hit a ball to third. However, it was butchered by Atkins (who compiled a -26 DRS and -14 UZR at third base over the course of 2007), allowing Francoeur to score. The Rockies then chose to take their chances with the lefty-hitting Langerhans rather than walking him and bringing up the pitcher’s spot again, and it worked out, as he hit into an inning-ending double play. This completed a stretch of four consecutive half-innings which all ended on a double play or a triple play.

So, the Braves had the slimmest of leads and six outs to get. Out came Rafael Soriano, the Dominican right-hander working in a setup capacity. The Braves had acquired Soriano in the offseason from Seattle, sending Horacio Ramirez in return. The inning started terribly for Soriano, as he issued a leadoff four-pitch walk to Hawpe. But, he recovered. Iannetta flew out to Andruw in right-center, and Soriano then struck out two consecutive pinch-hitters to end the inning. He really had to work for the first one, as John Mabry forced him into a 10-pitch marathon, fouling off three straight full count pitches before missing one.

In the ninth, Atlanta got to get some hacks in against Tom Martin. As you might recall, Martin was acquired by the Braves at the 2004 Trade Deadline, and then released after just four outings in 2005. He had caught on with the Rockies in 2006 and had a career year (0.7 fWAR), and then re-upped with them ahead of the 2007 campaign. With one out, Kelly Johnson didn’t blanch at the lefty-lefty matchup and smacked a triple past Helton at first base. The next man up, Renteria, reached on an infield single that scored Johnson, giving the Braves a little insurance. With two outs, the Rockies would replace Martin with Bobby Keppel, who walked Andruw before getting the last out of the inning. While totally inconsequential, this was Keppel’s last outing as a Rockie, and he wouldn’t re-surface in the majors until June 2009, with the Twins.

If you already knew that an early 2007 save situation for the Braves meant the appearance of Bob Wickman, congrats. The portly closer was acquired by the Braves mid-2006 in exchange for catching prospect Max Ramirez and was super-dominant down the stretch for the Braves (1.1 fWAR in just 28 appearances) in a way that he hadn’t been for years. Up until the Braves visited Coors, Wickman had only allowed one run (and it was unearned); he allowed some garbage time runs in the series opener while the Braves had a big lead, and still finished the game. This, however, wasn’t garbage time...

...which made it all the more painful when Wickman started his inning with back-to-back walks. Sure, the Braves had a two-run lead, but it was also Coors, and the Rockies had their best bats (3-4-5) coming up. Wickman got a brief reprieve when Atkins hit a ball hard into left-center, but too close to Langerhans to come up with a hit. However, he then made everything far worse by walking Helton, putting the tying run into scoring position. A collapse augured, and it happened in a stupid way: Holliday reached on an infield single to short, moving the chain along while trimming the lead to one run. Hawpe then hit Wickman’s first pitch weakly to second, not enough to reach safely, but enough to easily score the tying run uncontested and avoid the double play. Wickman was allowed to stay in and at least prevent the walkoff initially, but after he hit Iannetta with a pitch, he was yanked in favor of Tyler Yates. Yates was pretty terrible in 2006 but seemed to be doing better in 2007, and didn’t lose the game, getting Clint Barmes (who had entered in Carroll’s place at second base after Mabry pinch-hit there) to line out to right field to end the inning and send the game into extras.

Have you had enough of innings that feature multiple outs on one ball in play? Of course you haven’t! Closer Brian Fuentes came on to pitch the top of the 10th for the Rockies, setting up the lefty-lefty matchup with apparent Colorado nemesis Scott Thorman. Once again, a late-inning lefty-lefty situation went poorly for Colorado, as Thorman knocked a ground-rule double into right center. The Braves had a golden opportunity to take the lead... that was erased when Peña lined a ball right to Helton for an easy doubling of Thorman off second. Matt Diaz, pinch-hitting for Langerhans, flew out. Yates, however, had a nice and easy bottom of the 10th, going 1-2-3 and striking out pinch-hitter Yorvit Torrealba.

In the 11th, the Rockies turned to Denny Bautista, basically as replacement-level a swingman as you could get in the aughts. Bautista yielded a one-out walk to Kelly Johnson and then a deep drive into the right-field corner by Renteria, but Hawpe was able to come up with the latter and the Braves came up empty. As Yates was pinch-hit for by (current Rangers manager) Chris Woodward in the top half of the inning, he was replaced by Steve “Does Anyone Remember This Guy?” Colyer in the bottom half.

Colyer was a southpaw who hadn’t appeared in the majors for a couple of seasons, and was only on the big-league Atlanta roster because Macay McBride, who had had a couple of pretty good relief seasons in 2005 and 2006, started 2007 by walking 11 of the 25 batters he faced. That actually doesn’t quite do it justice as a ratio — in his second outing of the year, McBride got one out and walked three guys. In the next, he got four outs and walked three guys. Then it was another one out, three walk outing. Finally, he got the same number of outs as walks allowed (two), and got demoted to find himself. So, Colyer was pretty much just filling in while the Braves searched for a real solution, but here he was, in walkoff territory. Beyond that, Colyer was essentially a LOOGY, having dramatically terrible splits against righties (we’re talking FIPs of like 6.00 and up, and xFIPs of 5.00 and up), Yet, here he was, with a couple of righties due up in the 11th.

For a moment, things seemed fine. Colyer struck out the righty-hitting Atkins on three pitches. He walked lefty-hitting Helton, not ideal, but not the end of the world. That was reserved for the next batter: Holliday creamed a 2-2 Colyer offering over Andruw Jones, over the center-field fence, and into the Denver afternoon for a walkoff two-run homer.

Game MVP: Not that it helped the team pull out a victory, but it’s definitely Scott Thorman here. This was the best game of Thorman’s career, by a pretty decent margin. He went 4-for-4 with a walk, ending a triple short of the cycle and driving in four of the Braves’ seven runs. His homer in the second gave the Braves a lead; he singled in three more runs to help the Braves close the gap in the middle innings and then hit a leadoff double in extras before getting doubled off second. That Thorman’s next-best career game (not counting some pinch-hit homers, of which he had a few) was a 2-for-3 game with a homer, double, and walk kind of shows you just how much of an aberration this was for him.

Game LVP: Bob Wickman, who, in the fashion of early 2007 Macay McBride, walked more opposing batters (three) than he got outs (two). Sure, the actual game-tying balls in play off of him weren’t hit particularly well, but he dug his own grave with two walks to start the inning and another one later.

Biggest play: Matt Holliday’s walkoff homer. Holliday would go on to have a career year with 6.9 fWAR and a crazy-good seven-year stretch where he brutalized all the baseballs. It was a really weird game for Holliday: he went 0-for-4 with two double plays hit into in his first four PAs, and then totally reversed course with the run-scoring infield single in the ninth and then the walkoff two innings later.

The game, in context of the season: Oh boy, this was a busy one. Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first: the 2007 Braves were great in April, good in September, and mediocre the rest of the way, hence their overall mediocre record. The Phillies and the Mets finished somewhat better, relegating the Braves to a third-place fate, even though no NL East team won 90 games. Notably, the Braves actually had the best run differential in the division, but finished four games below it, while the Phillies and Mets finished two games above theirs. Them’s the breaks.

The Rockies, though! Did you remember that this was that Rockies team? You know the one. The one that was 18-27, a bottom-five team in the majors, as late as May 21? The one that then went 72-46 (that’s a .610 winning percentage!) the rest of the way to grab a Wild Card spot? You know, the one that won seven straight games in the playoffs to make the World Series, where they were easily brushed aside by the Red Sox in another four games? Yeah, that one. Sometimes April is the season in microcosm. Other times, it has very little relation to what ends up happening. Baseball!

This game had so many small narratives with respect to the seasons and careers of the various players. As mentioned, this was Scott Thorman’s best game. Aside from this contest, though, Thorman was pretty awful. He finished his 2007 with -1.0 fWAR in around 300 PAs, and basically forced the Braves to try and do something at first base, which ended up being the franchise-altering Mark Teixeira trade. Thorman played out the string with the Braves in 2007, but never appeared in the majors again afterwards. Wickman was fine but not great for the Braves in 2007, but suffered a serious WPA deficit (0.3 fWAR but -0.48 WPA). The Braves actually released him after a terrible August, which was really just a weird thing altogether because that wasn’t where he accrued the WPA deficit, which came far earlier in the year. Wickman pitched a few games with Arizona, and then retired. As for Steve Colyer, the walkoff homer actually yielded the last runs he would allow as a major leaguer. He stuck around for a few more outings with the Braves, and then never appeared in the majors again. Kyle Davies would be shipped off to the Royals midseason for what turned out to be all of nine Octavio Dotel appearances. Davies had a few better seasons in Kansas City, but never really moved past fourth starter territory.

Troy Tulowitzki was still a rookie in 2007 despite 100 or so PAs the prior year. He was awful in his first stint in the majors, but burst onto the 2007 scene with a monster 5.2 fWAR year. While injuries would take their toll, he would have six 5ish fWAR seasons before then, and looks like he’ll end his career with over 38 fWAR total.

Video? Unfortunately, it looks like the triple play is the only footage available.

Anything else? Todd Helton went 1-for-1 with five, count ‘em, five walks in this game. That’s the only time it’s ever happened for any Rockies player. In fact, it’s only happened 115 times in all of major league history. The Braves haven’t had a five-walk game since Dale Murphy got one in 1987; they haven’t yielded one since this game. The Rockies have never walked the same batter five times in a game. There were zero five-walk-by-a-player games in 2019, the first year that none occurred since 2005.

Right after this game, the Braves traded Ryan Langerhans to Oakland for a player to be named later. At the time, Langerhans had just three hits and six walks in 52 PAs (a -25 wRC+, yes, with a negative). He’d play just two games in Oakland before being traded back to the NL East (Nationals) in exchange for Chris Snelling (another replacement-level outfielder). While Langerhans continued to be awful for the rest of 2007, finishing with -1.2 fWAR and just a 52 wRC+, he carved out a decent set of seasons afterwards as a fourth/fifth outfielder, collecting 2.3 fWAR in under 400 PAs over the next three seasons.

Baseball is dead to me, tell me something else cool about April 29: This date in 1429 marks (theoretically, datekeeping was at least a little wonky that long ago) the arrival of Joan of Arc in Orleans amidst the siege of the city during the Hundred Years’ War. The siege would be lifted a few days later after going on for over half a year at that point, marking what some (most?) historians consider the turning point of the war away from English domination. (You should read more about Joan of Arc. It’s fascinating stuff.)